chapter  11
Concluding remarks
Pages 7

This project started out with the title: A Sociology of Applied Linguistics. Then it became A Social History of Applied Linguistics 1980-2010, then A Recent History of Applied Linguistics, and finally it ended up as A History of Applied Linguistics: From 1980 to the present. Having come to the end of the thinking and writing process, I realize that maybe this book is not even that. It is not a history in which the development over time of ideas is followed or in which the main controversies are put in their historic context. Nor is it a description of how the main figures in the field formed and changed their views and how that relates to changes in the larger societal context. Nor is it an analysis of how leading research groups or institutions and the people associated with it developed with details on the internal politics, who worked with whom, who hated who and why. It is none of that. What remains is essentially the state of play of a field; a screenshot of what may or may not be a community or a discipline. I have come to this view based on the responses to five questions that I

asked to discover how a selected group of applied linguists defined the field and its developments. The first question was how the field is defined. It turns out that there are three perspectives: one that sees AL as a discipline aiming at solving real world problems with linguistic means and tools, the second that equates AL with SLD, and a third that sees AL as including everything about language, apart from formal linguistic description. My informants were spread over these groups, but there seemed to be a majority that favored the pragmatic, open definition of the third group. The second question was who are the leaders in AL. The rankings show

that there is consensus on who are the top leaders. These leaders have academic weight, are active in the field and support the development of young talent. In a sense, they define the field by their work and presence. They act as role models for younger researchers. There seems to be some convergence in the names mentioned, though a significant portion of the informants do not see AL as a coherent and uniform field but rather as a set of subfields that each have their own leaders. Who are the prototypical applied linguists? It could be argued that our

top ten leaders qualify. What they have in common is that they publish in at

publication and contentwise, that they are active in professional organizations and act as editors of books and journals and that they are well connected. They do not necessarily work in the same area and on the same topics, but they have their favorite topics: James Lantolf and Merrill Swain for Social Cultural Theory (SCT), Diane Larsen-Freeman for complexity theory, Henry Widdowson for discourse, and Claire Kramsch for cultural and ecological approaches to foreign language learning. Though there are clearly differences in view and theoretical orientation, in general they respect each other’s work. It seems that the leaders, probably combined with the publishers, are what binds the field, more than research topics, definitions of the field, impact on language teaching or views on what constitutes the core of the AL literature. A majority of the leaders do work that relates to language teaching, though the distance from what really goes on in classrooms is fairly large for most of them. The third source is the information given about articles and books. As

pointed out earlier, the list of articles and books mentioned is very long and there are just a handful of publications that are generally seen as core for the field. There are many publications from outside the field, which supports the view that AL is conceptually interdisciplinary in the sense that ideas, theories and research methods from other disciplines are imported. The multitude of publications mentioned is, on the one hand, a sign that there is basically no content that is shared by all applied linguists; on the other hand, it shows the ability of the field to react creatively to developments in other areas and apply them in its research. There does not seem to be a common core of publications that define the

field. Whether this is a specific problem for AL, I do not know. A similar survey to the one reported on here among psychologists or cultural anthropologists is likely to show an equally disparate pattern. It may be a natural tendency of disciplines to fractionize and reassemble parts of the old discipline into new coalitions. This may not be a reason to despair about the future of AL and, indeed, we have seen the emergence of sub-communities, working on testing, SLA, English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), SCT and so on. There seems to be little ground for any of these subdisciplines to claim that they are the “real” AL, even for those that in the early days of the field were defined as the core constituents. The fourth question concerned the trends the informants have witnessed

over the last decades. There is a wide range of topics the informants refer to. The field has moved in many ways and directions, but there are probably two main issues to be noted. The first is the decline of the impact of formal linguistics as a major theoretical basis for AL. The other major trend is the move away from an emphasis on psycholinguistic mechanisms in individual language users and learners to cognition as socially embedded. The “social of

in the field. in psycholinguistics is seen as important, but many informants feel that it is no longer needed, since AL has a well-established position in many universities all over the world. The fifth question was how informants see the relationship between

research and teaching. Again, there was a range of views. For some informants even having this item in the questionnaire was too much of a sign that AL is basically, or only, on learning and using additional languages. But the majority agrees that many of the “real world problems” AL can contribute to are related to language learning and instruction. Views are divided over the contribution of research to the improvement of language teaching. Some informants see a negative impact, others see no impact at all, but for the majority the impact has been substantial. What it contributed is a move from behaviorist approaches to language learning to more communicatively oriented approaches. Part of that is related to language policy and political and social developments outside the field. The impact on better teaching methods has been limited, but the now generally accepted notion that there is no optimal, one-size-fits-all approach to language learning is an important contribution. Individuals differ in many respects and so does their learning. Do these sources of information converge? The global picture that emerges is

one of what might be labeled as a “community of practice”. There is a feeling of shared interests and goals and the intention to improve these through learning from others. But maybe the seventeenth-century term “invisible college” is more appropriate here. Robert Merton, the founding father of the sociology of science, presents the following definition:

Invisible colleges can be construed sociologically as clusters of geographically dispersed scientists who engage in more frequent cognitive interaction with one another than they do with others in the larger community of science. At the outset, the members of an emerging invisible college regard themselves as major reference individuals and regard themselves collectively as a reference group, whose opinions of their work matter deeply and whose standards of cognitive performance are taken as binding.